Then and now, indigenous peoples fighting for ancestral lands charged with terrorism

Aetas protesting against destructive dams during the 2018 State of the Nation Address. (Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat)

This is not the first time that an indigenous people was charged with terrorism.


MANILA – Two Aetas were the first to be charged under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020, according to the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in the compliance and manifestation filed on Wednesday, Nov. 18.

Jay Garung and Junior Ramos were arrested and detained by the military when they were fleeing their community due to intense military operations in August. They were accused of being members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

The NUPL said this is the “first publicly known direct injury case of the ATA, which happened to take place even prior to the issuance of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR).

Sandugo – Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination condemned the arrest and called for the immediate release as both men are civilians and not members of the revolutionary group. They said that indigenous peoples who are fighting for their ancestral lands are the first victims of repressive laws such as the ATA.

According to Sandugo – Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination, on Aug. 21, Garung and Ramos, along with other Aetas from sitio Lumibao, barangay Buhawen, San Marcelino, Zambales were evacuating due to intense military operations and continued bombings in their ancestral lands.

They were making their way down from the mountain when they were accosted by elements of the 73rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and falsely accused them of being members of the NPA.

Garung was singled out by the soldiers due to his inability to speak Ilocano, the language widely spoken in San Marcelino town. The group said Garung, who hails from Pampanga, explained that he migrated to the town to marry. But the soldiers insisted that he is a rebel.

The group said Garung, Ramos and his brother Manuel were tortured for a week. The soldiers forced Garung to eat human feces, it added.

On Aug. 27, the three were brought to Olongapo City Jail to face charges of terrorism, murder, attempted murder and illegal possession of firearms and explosives which are all non-bailable offense. Manuel was released due to lack of evidence.

According to Sandugo, the Army’s 73rd Infantry Divisuon is intensifying their operations in San Marcelino to pave the way for further mining explorations of Copper Silver Mines Inc. At least 695 Aetas evacuated from sitio Lumibao due to military operations.

Not the first

This is not the first time that an indigenous people was charged with terrorism.

According to the monitoring of the human rights group Karapatan, in March 2008, Edgar Candule, also an Aeta, was arrested by the police without warrant in Botolan, Zambales. He was charged with illegal possession of firearms and violation of the Human Security Act of 2007, which was amended to ATA.

In an earlier report of Bulatlat, Candule was arrested after alleged subversive documents and a firearm were found in his possession. He was also suspected of being a member of the NPA. He was found inside a hut packing his belongings when the law enforcers came to arrest him.

The court dismissed the case against Candule in October 2010. The court said that the prosecution failed to prove the crime of terrorism.

Under Section 50 of the HSA of 2007, Candule is entitled to the payment of damage for unproven charged of terrorism. According to his counsel from the NUPL, he deserves a monetary compensation of P470 million ($9.7 million), which has not been settled until now.

In 2019, under President Duterte, known Lumad leader Jomorito Goaynon and a peasant organizer were arrested in Talakag, Bukidnon.

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They were charged with violation of the HAS, illegal possession of firearms and explosives, violation of the election gun ban, rebellion. In August of the same year, charges against them were dismissed. But Goaynon remains in detention due to trumped-up charges of kidnapping, robbery and arson.

Sandugo said indigenous peoples are often victims of repressive laws.

The group said that laws used to protect the interests of the investors “who wish to exploit our ancestral lands” with impunity.

“National minorities have always been targeted by the state as they defend their right to ancestral lands and self-determination,” Sandugo said.

Meanwhile, there is no date yet when the Supreme Court will conduct oral arguments on the 37 petitions filed against the ATA. The SC has set a preliminary conference Nov. 26 to discuss the petitions. (

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